“Everyone SIT. DOWN. NOW. You are not listening as well today Bryan. Don’t look over there Angel. Yes, focus on me,” Mrs. Conrey says with a firm but collected voice . Her speech has a Jersey twang as she circles around 15 small desks. Her hair is drawn back in a low ponytail, and glasses rest on the tip of her nose. She eyes their reading assignments one by one, and then asks me to go work at the “Math Station” with two of the students.
My first day helping at Hawkins Street School has been about what I expected. The children are rowdy, but then again so is Kids Club. They all want attention, and you can tell which ones will eventually become “problems” for the teachers. Some are street smart, while others are farther ahead in their education.
“It’s hard because we don’t have any honors programs here,” Mrs. Conrey mentions as she allows her brightest student, Jacob, to work on a different curriculum than the rest of the class. She explains that if she goes too slowly, he distracts the other students out of boredom. At the same time, there are also children that don’t understand the basic math or reading principles. I realize how difficult it must be to not only relate to each child’s different home life and culture, but also have to adapt to each student’s education process. With no honors or disabilities classes, teachers are left to fend for themselves.
Children across the street from Hawkins Street School
Picture By: Katelyn James
Mrs. Conrey must often yell at her students, but she tries never to be overly harsh; it’s simply the only way for her to gain full attention. I find her to be a respectable teacher who genuinely cares for her students. But Ms. Jodie, the teacher assistant scares me. She wears a hat that shadows her eyes, and she talks to the students with a lack of respect. Ms. Jodie especially dislikes the little boys in the class.
This was demonstrated at lunch time. Mrs. Conrey eats with the other teachers, while Ms. Jodie and I take students to the cafeteria.
“Get in line. Get I said! Never in my life…GET!” Ms. Jodie grabs Michael harshly, pulling his arm into an awkward position. His face contorts, but he says nothing. A fat tear falls down his cheek.
“Don’t you cry. Don’t you cry, you hear me?!” She gets close to his face. “You think I care if you cry? I don’t. I do not care at all. Not afta the trouble you gave me yestaday!” She steps back from him and begins to mumble about how much of a “little shit” he is being.
Ok. This was not what I expected. Even after we had been briefed on how these schools were different from the public education systems of the middle class, I was dismayed by the teacher aid’s cruelty and profanity. That wasn’t allowed right?
I glanced around the hallway. Looking to the left I saw a security guard yelling at a student, similar to how Ms. Jodie was yelling. No help that way, I thought. I quickly looked to the right just to see a random 5th grader without a hall pass. Nothing. There was no one to help me.
I looked back at Michael. He was sniffling and staring at the back of the guy’s head in front of him. I bent down next to him. “It’s ok Michael. Not a big deal, but you know you gotta stay in line,” I half whispered. While I wanted to comfort the boy, I didn’t want Ms. Jodie to become defensive; there is a balance. After all, this is her territory and I assume she grew up in similar conditions. Yet I couldn’t just let him cry.
Michael kept staring straight ahead. He did not make eye contact but whispered to me “I hate her. I hate her so much.” His lips crinkled up and his eyes burned with more tears he would not allow to fall.